The Israeli winter by Zarar khuhro

If there is one picture that sums up the Israeli peoples’ reaction to the ceasefire, it is the one of Israeli soldiers spelling out “Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu) is a loser” with their bodies. The ceasefire is deeply unpopular in Israel, with 70 per cent of Israelis opposing it and a mere 24 per cent supporting it. Only seven per cent felt that it would survive long term.
This is because the ascendant Israeli right demands a ‘final solution’, while the minuscule left calls for a comprehensive peace. Neither got what they wanted. It is telling that even the centrist Kadima party is calling Netanyahu out for being soft, drawing comparisons with its own conduct of the 2008 Operation Cast. Some may argue that Israel ended up getting even more US military aid, but US support for Israel is a given and that aid was never in doubt to begin with.
It’s ironic that when the entity now known as Hamas was on the rise in the occupied territories, it was, if not encouraged, then certainly tolerated by Israel. This is because the Islamist group, being both anti-communist and anti-nationalist, was seen as an effective counter to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which then enjoyed a monopoly on the Palestinian struggle. These were the heydays of Arab nationalism and its champion was the hero of Suez, Gamal Abdul Nasser. But then came the rise and fall of the United Arab Republic, the debacles of the Arab-Israeli wars and pan-Arabism suddenly seemed to lose its lustre. Politics, much like nature, abhors a vacuum and it was inevitable that another force would fill the gap.
Israel’s battering of Fatah and its refusal to effectively negotiate with the PLO eventually led to the rise of Hamas as a credible Palestinian force, and if the Israeli government had any foresight, it would realise that destroying Hamas would only lead to an even more radical group taking power. Perhaps, this would be Islamic Jihad or an al Qaeda linked group. Of course, imperialists are nothing if not short-sighted and even after Hamas won the elections in 2006, the US and Israel tried their best to isolate it in the hope that it would somehow fade away. It did not, and if there is one clear outcome of the Israeli attacks, it is that Hamas is now a recognised force. Not once in this conflict was Fatah or the ‘official’ peace partner, Mahmoud Abbas, even mentioned and reports from the West Bank reported an equal amount of rage at Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In Gaza itself, armed groups that had often found themselves at odds were seen cooperating under, and seemingly acquiescing to, Hamas’s authority. From Egypt to Turkey to Tunisia and the Arab League, delegation after delegation visited Gaza to show solidarity with the besieged strip and Hamas leaders clearly basked in the attention. For the uber-hawk Netanyahu, this was an unintended consequence of the attack. The desired outcome for Netanyahu, who presides over one of the most rightwing governments in Israel’s history, was to burnish his ‘tough guy’ credentials ahead of the parliamentary elections.
Strategically, another objective may have been to remove Hamas’s capabilities and deny it the ability to strike at Israel in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran. He failed on both counts, as that capability can easily be rebuilt. Having campaigned on a platform of “ensur[ing] that the Hamas reign of terror will collapse”, Netanyahu has in fact ended up strengthening the movement and weakening his own support base.
So, if Israel’s warmongers lost, who apart from Hamas has won? While Turkey has cemented its position, it is Egypt that has again emerged as a power broker. Negotiating and guaranteeing a ceasefire not only establishes it as a responsible power that can ‘do business’, but its stance on the conflict also burnishes its standing on the Arab street which, after the Arab Spring, is a force to be reckoned with. It is a further source of anxiety for Israel that Hamas springs from the same Muslim Brotherhood that now rules Egypt. How pushed will Mohamed Morsi be in interdicting weapon supplies to Gaza is a question that will haunt Israel’s policymakers.
Speaking of weapons, the Fajr rockets that reached Tel Aviv were supplied by Iran, which must be a source of some pleasure for the rulers there, who have otherwise faced an annus horriblis. The failure of Israel to sustain the offensive also makes the prospect of an Israeli strike on Iran seem more distant; which may be some compensation for Tehran losing the spotlight to Cairo. Notably absent in this picture are the Saudis and Gulf states, who must be wary of any Hamas success given that they are already engaged in a proxy war in Syria with Hamas’s main backer, Iran. Egypt’s rise will also ruffle Saudi feathers, as it is these two countries that have traditionally vied for dominance in the Arab world. One person who must be cursing the ceasefire is Bashar Al-Assad, who will have welcomed the Israeli attack for having distracted the world from his own daily massacres of the Syrian people. With that conflict ended, the focus will again be on Syria, where the survival of the regime seems unlikely. His fall will signal the final end of the Middle East that Israel knew and loved, and it seems that no one in Tel Aviv understands just how deeply its neighbourhood has changed. Will Israel change as well? Or will it stick to its policies of aggression and toxic nationalism? One hopes for the former, but experience indicates it will be the latter. In that case, it may be a long, cold winter for Israel.


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